Sanskrit Palm-Leaf Mss. in Tibet
During my last journey to Tibet in 1929–30, I was able to collect a mass of Tibetan works, either originally translated from Sanskrit or Indian Vernaculars, or original works composed by Tibetan scholars themselves. Though I had heard numerous rumours about the existence of Sanskrit Palm-leaf MSS, but after search I found them unfounded. After several trials I drew the conclusion, that there was hardly much of a possibility of getting Palm-leaf MSS. in Tibet. But on my return, while studying the materials thus collected there for my little monograph in Hindi entitled "A Short History of Buddhism in Tibet" (Devanagari not available)), I felt convinced about the existence of them, at least a hundred in number.
Last time, after my return from Tibet, I felt it necessary to restore some of the great works of the Buddhist logicians, from Tibetan to Sanskrit. In fact I was restoring the Pramāṇa-Vārtika of Dharmakīrti, when a friend of mine wrote to me that the work in original Sanskrit was discovered by the Royal Preceptor Paṇḍita Hemarāja Sarman of Nepal, whose knowledge of Sanskrit is encyclopaedic and love for it, proverbial; so I gave up the tasks and thought it prudent to see first those Sanskrit MSS. which were still preserved in Tibet, before taking any restoration work, lest it might prove an useless labour after the discovery of the original MSS. One thing that prompted me to under take the second tour of Tibet was to search for those ancient Palm-leaf MSS. originally taken from India. I remained on Tibetan soil from April 4, till November 10, 1934—about six and a half months
Though the import of palm-leaf MSS. begins from the middle of the seventh century during the reign of the Emperor Srong-btsan-sgam-po (630–693 A.D.) their number was very few. Intense activity in the field of translation is witnessed during four centuries, viz., from the middle of the ninth century to the middle of the thirteenth century. During this period many thousands of palm-leaf MSS. were taken to Tibet, and in the normal course, they ought to be found there. But we know that great monasteries of Bsam-yas and Tho-gling (near Mansarowar) were destroyed by fire, in which many precious collections were burnt. Though the monastery of Sa-skya, where many hundreds of Sanskrit books were translated into Tibetan, was never destroyed after its ascendance, yet, later hierarchs did not care for these MSS. which had no meaning for them; and, they allowed the scholars of their sect to take the MSS. away to their monasteries. In fact, the MSS. which are found in the monasteries of Sha-lu and Ngor, originally belonged to Sa-skya. There are two other causes which are responsible for the disappearance of the MSS. The devout people consider it a great meritorious deed to enshrine the palm-leaf MSS. inside a stūpa or image. In this way hundreds of books are now beyond our reach. I heard at Sa-skya that a palm-leaf MS. copy of Dharmakīrti's great work Pramāṇa-vārtika is enshrined inside an image of him, kept in one of the chapels of the Lha-khang-chen-mo of Sa-skya. A few years back, an old stucco image in Bsam-yas had fallen down and inside it many such MSS. were found. The image was reconstructed and MSS. were put back into it again. The other practice is more atrocious. In some of these monasteries Lamas cut the MSS. in pieces and offer them to those pilgrims who bring rich presents. These small pieces are said to possess the miraculous power of healing all kinds of diseases when a drop of water in which the piece has been dipped is administered to the patient.
After reaching Lhasa on the 19th May, 1934, I began to search for MSS. The first MS. I saw was a commentary (Devanagari not available) on the Śiśupāla-badham of Māgha by Bhavadatta, along with a few pages of a grammatical work. These MSS. were afterwards purchased and now they are preserved in Patna Museum. Next to that, a Palm-leaf M.S. of a commentary on Abhisamayālaṅkāra by Buddhaśrījñāna (a co-student of the Ācārya Haribhadra, the famous commentator of several philosophical treatises, and a disciple of the Ācārya Śāntarakṣita) was brought to me. Its size is 123/4"X 2" and contains 27 leaves. The owner was reluctant to disclose his name, but he allowed it to be photographed. I saw a copy of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñā-Pāramitā with a Nepalese merchant, written in Rañjana character, and more than a hundred pages of the Śatasāhasrikā Prajñā-Pāramitā, the latter being the property of the heirs of the late Tergi-Thai-Je. Though they· were of no great importance, yet they encouraged me to further pursuit. l was very much helped by the enlightened Sä-ku-śo of the feudal house of Zur-kang, whose. mother is the direct descendant of Srong-btsan-sgam-po (630–693 A.D.), the first emperor and maker of Tibet. One day, the second (brother) Sä-ku-śo of Zur-khang brought the news, that they have got some palm-leaf MSS. in the library of Kun-bde-gling monastery, which were recently discovered while they were preparing a catalogue of the books. On the 18th June, he took me to that monastery which is not far from the famous POTALA PALACE. Only two MSS. were shown, and my joy knew no bounds when I found one of them to be a commentary on the Vādanyāya of Dharmakīrti by Ācārya Śāntarakṣita, the famous author of the Tatvasaṅgraha. I found it difficult to persuade the authorities to allow me to take a photograph of the work; and I was advised to see the Ka-Ion Lama, one of the four Ministers of the Tibetan Government. When he heard of my mission, he appreciated it very much, and at once sent for the officer-in-charge. He ordered that I should be allowed to take photographs of any MS. I thought useful. Ka-lon Lama also told me, that he would issue a general permit from the Cabinet to get help from all local authorities as well as private individuals. After the death of Dalai Lama, he was the most influential man in Tibet, but he also died a few days afterwards, which is an irreparable loss to Tibet.
I had heard from Re-ḍing-rin-po-che, the Regent King of Tibet, that his monastery possesses a half-bumt palm-leaf MS. which originally belonged to the collection of books which the Ācārya Dīpaṅkara Śrījñāna (982–1054 A.D.) brought with him from India. I was very keen to see that MS. and the Regent gave me a letter to the officer-in-charge of his monastery, but owing to a serious omission in the letter, the officer could not show it to me. I was informed that it was a half-burnt copy of the Prajñā-pāramitā.
After my return from Re-ḍing, I intended to visit Lho-kha Province, where in the monasteries of Bsamyas and Smin-ḍo-gling I heard about the existence of some MSS. About Bsam-yas, I was told that it has got two or three palm-leaf MSS. which are in the custody of the local magistrate (Dzong), and it is not possible to see them without a special permission of the Cabinet. The Chief Lama of Smin-ḍo-gling, who is also one of the heads of Ñig-ma-pa sect, told me that his monastery possessed four MSS. He was very eager to take me to his monastery which is only two days' journey from Lhasa. But as I had spent more than a month in the hope of getting the letter from the Cabinet, there was little time left at my· disposal. Moreover, I heard that those four MSS. are duplicate copies of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā, and Karuṇā-puṇḍarīka(?). In Lho-kha, some of the monasteries belonging to Sa-skya sect may possess palm-leaf MSS., but their number will not be considerable.
Information received from reliable sources disclosed the possibility of the existence of many MSS. in the monasteries of Tsang. Finding that there would still be much delay in getting the permit from the Cabinet, and as winter was approaching, I left for Tsang. I visited some of the ancient monasteries. of that province. In the monasteries of Spos-khang-tshog-pa (one day's journey from Gyan-tse), Sha-lu (a few hour's journey from Shi-ga-rtse on Gyantse side), Ngor (one day's journey from Shi-ga-rtse) and Sa-skya, I saw some of the MSS. which are described in the following pages. The list of the MSS. in Sha-Lu monastery is not complete. I was told that there are still some palm-leaf MSS. in the heap of Tibetan MSS. which are stored in a big room there and many more hands are required to sort them out than what they possessed at that time.
The people, who had seen them with their own eyes, told me that Ña-rig-ri-phug monastery (about half a day's journey from Shi-ga-rtse) possesses two palm-leaf MSS. At Ngor I met a Lama of the Thub-rtan-rnam-rgyal monastery of Rta-nag (two days' journey from Shi-ga-rtse) who told me that his monastery possesses two palm-leaf MSS. The contents of these four MSS. are not known.
If a search is properly made, we can discover some more MSS. in the province of Tsang, A few monasteries of the Kham province (eastern Tibet) are also said to possess some. (Sāṅkṛtyāyana, preliminary remarks, 21–26)